Last year I wrote about 2nd Lt. Emily Perez and this year I was going to do something about her fellow class of 2005 member, 1st Lt Thomas Martin, who rests two graves to her right in the West Point cemetery. Between them is Jonathon Edds, one of three brothers from White Pigeon, MI, who graduated from West Point and deployed to the Middle East. Others have written better and more personally about Tom Martin than I could ever hope to, so I'll let them do the talking...
By Azar Boehm, October 2011
Earlier this month, I took a break from studying and headed up to West Point, New York to visit an old friend: 1LT Thomas Martin. I arrived around mid-morning to a beautiful fall day in upstate New York. The trees of the Hudson River Valley had just begun changing into their stunning fall colors and the exquisitely blue skies and bright sunshine embraced all who ventured outside that gorgeous morning. I could not help but think of the similarity to another beautiful autumn day almost four years ago in another country halfway around the world. After a brief stop at the visitor’s center to ask for directions, I begin walking to the spot that had drawn me from the confines of the city to this picturesque place.
As I walk along the river, I reflect on how much Tom loved this school. He was a former enlisted man who had earned an appointment to the United States Military Academy graduating in 2005. Shortly thereafter, he was stationed at Fort Richardson, Alaska and became the Sniper Platoon leader in Charlie Troop 1-40th Cavalry, and that is how I met him. When we deployed to Iraq, various squads would be attached to his platoon for certain periods of time, so the whole Troop had an opportunity to work closely with him. From those experiences, I saw a leader who exuded the values of West Point in everything that he set out to accomplish. Duty, Honor, and Country were not just a motto to him but a way of life, and that is why this journey is so difficult.
Along the way, I pass young cadets going to class. They are here at the Academy to learn about war and to become masters in combat leadership. I am sure most of them harbor deep desires to graduate before the wars are over and prove themselves in battle. I too felt that way at some point as generations of soldiers before us, but experience and reality quickly quell such notions. That is why I came: to face the reality that sacrifice is all too real and to celebrate and remember the life of a great warrior.
October 14, 2007: I will remember that day for the rest of my life. I was getting some sleep before our morning mission and at around 4:00AM, I woke up to a clamor in the hallway. At that point, someone came into our room and told us to go into the day room. A deep, gut-wrenching feeling of anguish and bile welled up in my stomach as we waited anxiously to hear what happened. You do not get woken up unexpectedly and assembled at 4:00 in the morning unless you have to go on a quick-reaction force mission or something terrible happened. Finally, the Chaplain came in and told us that 1Lt Martin had been killed. Sniper platoon was conducting a helicopter assault that night, and he had been hit by small-arms fire. As can be expected, he was leading from the front and heading toward the enemy when he was shot. The medics worked feverishly to save his life, but despite their best efforts, it was not to be. The Chaplain said a few words, we all prayed for his family, and then we filed out of the room to get ready for our mission. The fight would continue; mourning and reflection would have to come later.
After a long walk, I finally arrive at the cemetery and with the help of the groundskeeper I find what I am looking for: Section XXXVI Site B-064G (the area for Iraq and Afghanistan veterans). Martin, Thomas M 1LT US ARMY IRAQ OCT 10 1980-OCT14 2007 CLASS OF 2005 USMA. As I approach his tombstone, my eyes begin to water, and I stand there in silence for a long time. I had never realized that he died four days after his twenty-seventh birthday. Good memories begin to flood into my mind: Tom’s love of cigars, his Charlie Troop flag he had made and hung over our building, and his wonderful family who visited us after we came back from Iraq. I remember his fiancé, who I never met, but who had also served as an Army helicopter pilot in Iraq during the same time. I began to walk along the gravestones and the same theme followed each one: their name, period of time on this earth, country of death (Iraq , Afghanistan), and their graduation date. They had died way too young in a war that had gone on for 10 years. Although unknown to the general public, they are deeply loved by family, friends, and fellow comrades.
While Memorial Day comes along once a year, for those that have served and their families, Memorial Day is every day and especially on the anniversary of a loved one’s and friend’s death. On that day, Facebook and Twitter messages are posted, prayers are said, and beers are had in tribute of a life well lived in the service of one’s country. The memories are kept alive through organizations such as the 1LT Tom Martin Foundation that offers college scholarships to high school students, and whenever a group of former battle buddies get together, stories are inevitably shared: a celebration of life and a determination to never forget emerges from the anguish of loss.
I will never forget Tom Martin or all my other friends that lost their lives in these wars. Their anniversaries will come, and we will remember. We will remember those that we knew like brothers and those that we knew in passing. We will honor those that we never had the pleasure of meeting, and we will pay tribute to our fellow warriors that gave the ultimate sacrifice in previous generations. Tom Martin and all that he represents will never fade because those that he served with will not allow it to happen.
On that beautiful October day, I was reminded why I had put on the uniform, and why we must strive to reach our full potential. We cannot choose the day or time when we are taken from this earth, but we can choose how to live our lives. Thanks Tom, for setting that example for us...
The Story Goes On
When U.S. Army 1st Lt. Tom Martin called or emailed his mother from Iraq, he would almost always end with the same words.
"I gotta go rid the world of evil," 1st Lt. Martin said.
Few mothers could understand the risks her son faced like Candy Martin. When Tom deployed to Iraq in October 2006, she had just returned from the war-torn country.
"I got home in July 2006," U.S. Army Chief Warrant Officer 5 Candy Martin (Ret.) told The Unknown Soldiers. "Even though I knew where he was going to be — I had been there — I truly believed he was going to be OK."
Tom's father, Ed, served in the Army until 1995. But even though Tom grew up in a military family, his mother said that the future warrior's motivation to serve came from within.
"We have pictures of him at Halloween dressed as a soldier, but I'm not sure his interest in the military came from us," Candy said. "He definitely had a mind of his own."
After his application to the U.S. Military Academy at West Point was rejected in high school, Tom enlisted in the Army and refused to give up his dream of becoming an officer.
"He made very solid decisions," the soldier's mom said. "We saw a huge maturity."
Tom was eventually accepted to West Point and enrolled in the fall of 2001, just before America went to war. But even after 9/11 changed everything, Tom's outlook stayed the same.
"He had true conviction for what was right," Candy said.
When Tom arrived in Iraq five years later, the platoon leader sent his mom pictures of several familiar places.
"I was in the Green Zone and climbed the towers ... the statues where Saddam Hussein was holding the swords," Candy said. "He said, 'My mom did this ... I'm going to climb this.' He wasn't going to let his mother outdo him."
Adding to the unusual nature of Tom's first combat deployment was that his fiancee, U.S. Army Capt. Erika Noyes, was serving in the same area.
"I haven't gotten to see Erika very much since she's been here, but once in a while I miracle myself to her FOB (Forward Operating Base) for a short visit," Tom wrote in September 2007.
Instead of planning their wedding, the young couple was in the middle of a war.
"She hasn't been getting the flight hours she would like," Tom wrote about Erika. "But in the grand scheme of things, that's a good thing because it means people aren't in need of a Medevac flight."
About a month later, with Tom still in Iraq due to the troop surge that extended his deployment, Erika was working the operations desk when a Medevac flight was requested. As she would soon learn, her fiance had been hit with small arms fire.
"Tom had been pronounced KIA (killed in action)," Candy said. "She was in disbelief."
First Lt. Tom Martin died on Oct. 14, 2007, four days after his 27th birthday. Erika, whose own birthday was the next day, left Iraq amid the incomprehensible realization that their Oct. 12, 2008, wedding would never take place.
Candy, who has three surviving daughters and calls Erika her "fourth child," was also in disbelief when casualty assistance officers arrived on the doorstep of her family's San Antonio, Texas, home.
"It was the worst news possible, because he was just so close to coming home," she said.
Six years later, Tom's parents, sisters, fiancee, friends and fellow soldiers are keeping the fallen hero's memory alive.
"On the anniversary of his death this year, we got a letter from his battalion-level commander at Fort Richardson," Candy said. "While he didn't know Tom personally, the stories go on."
Tom's loved ones also established the 1LT Tom Martin Memorial Foundation, which supports scholarships, church missions and Tom's former Boy Scout troop.
"He's still leading today," Candy Martin said about her son. "These stories can make a difference in people's lives."
Because of 1st Lt. Tom Martin's ultimate sacrifice and the courage of his loved ones, other young men and women are being inspired by the soldier's selfless deeds and powerful words: "I gotta go rid the world of evil."